Genetic structure in Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) populations: Strong spatial patterns in the wild ancestors of domestic chickens in a core distribution range

Ecol Evol. 2018 Jun 11;8(13):6575-6588. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4139. eCollection 2018 Jul.


Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) are among the few remaining ancestors of an extant domesticated livestock species, the domestic chicken, that still occur in the wild. Little is known about genetic diversity, population structure, and demography of wild Red Junglefowl in their natural habitats. Extinction threats from habitat loss or genetic alteration from domestic introgression exacerbate further the conservation status of this progenitor species. In a previous study, we reported extraordinary adaptive genetic variation in the MHC B-locus in wild Red Junglefowl and no evidence of allelic introgression between wild and domestic chickens was observed. In this study, we characterized spatial genetic variation and population structure in naturally occurring populations of Red Junglefowl in their core distribution range in South Central Vietnam. A sample of 212 Red Junglefowl was obtained from geographically and ecologically diverse habitats across an area of 250 × 350 km. We used amplified fragment-length polymorphism markers obtained from 431 loci to determine whether genetic diversity and population structure varies. We found that Red Junglefowl are widely distributed but form small and isolated populations. Strong spatial genetic patterns occur at both local and regional scales. At local scale, population stratification can be identified to approximately 5 km. At regional scale, we identified distinct populations of Red Junglefowl in the southern lowlands, northern highlands, and eastern coastal portions of the study area. Both local and long-distance genetic patterns observed in wild Red Junglefowl may reflect the species' ground-dwelling and territorial characteristics, including dispersal barriers imposed by the Annamite Mountain Range. Spatially explicit analyses with neutral genetic markers can be highly informative and here elevates the conservation profile of the wild ancestors of domesticated chickens.

Keywords: AFLP; Bayesian cluster analysis; Red Junglefowl; dispersal; gene flow; population structure.